“I suppose there are traditions and tropes in stories like this. Someone is given a test to carry out. No one knows who the truth bearer is. People are not who or where we think they are. And there is someone who watches from an unknown location.”–Warlight – Michael Ondaatje
December ends, and my reading has not been rapid or fruitful. I had some time off, and halfway tried to catch up on things… but it was halfhearted. I found myself sleeping for 16-hour stretches. There were scholastic readings and a stronger pull to do other things.
I’ve read a grand total of 210 books in 2019 (not sure the final tally is accurate; I’m relying on notoriously buggy Goodreads to keep count). Maybe by the time the day ends this will be 211 – one of my goals this year was to translate a book, and I am nearly done translating a book from Norwegian to English, which would be book 211. But, for one thing, I don’t think I will finish today, and secondly, I don’t think “reading” and “translating” are the same thing. This is only about half of what I’ve read in the last two or three years, which feels a bit like a letdown. But I try to remind myself that it’s not about volume, and life was otherwise so full of activity that reading was an enjoyable, if necessary, third or fourth priority.
I did not have high expectations for this book but found it immediately engrossing. Ondaatje is kind of hit or miss for me, but I don’t know why. I find it hard to describe my thoughts on fiction – I just know what I like. Providing plot points and describing characters defeats the purpose, so I will simply say that I enjoyed this.
A few months ago, thanks to the minor, but altogether modern, not-quite-imbroglio of opening the wrong book within an e-reader, I read quite a bit of The Winds of War. I grew increasingly confused as I ‘tapped’ the pages, thinking I was reading a book about faith and its role in social good for university. I’d read some commentary about the university book claiming that the writer was “not great with women”, which is probably why I kept reading longer than I should have, wondering why the writer would be commenting in the impersonal third person on how attractive someone’s wife was. I persevered, thinking there might appear some ‘moral lesson’. Finally when the prose steered itself into discussing military life, I realized that maybe – just maybe – I had (re)opened the wrong book. Lo and behold….
At first The Winds of War left me cold – not least because I really didn’t like the way its female characters were depicted and didn’t relish having spent 15 minutes during a deadline-heavy day reading its nonsense when I should have been reading something else. Nevertheless, I finally returned to Winds and found it better than I expected. Did I love it – would I recommend it? No. But I don’t feel like I wasted my time.
Oddly the book felt in places newly timely, particularly on its discussion of the history of anti-Semitism. Anti-semitism is not new, and ‘tolerance’ — especially observing what is happening in the world right now — shallow.
“He stroked his beard and spoke deliberately, the classroom note strong. “Well! Your surprise doesn’t surprise me. Young people—young Americans especially—aren’t aware that the tolerance for Jews in Europe is only fifty to a hundred years old and that it’s never gone deep. It didn’t touch Poland, where I was born. Even in the West—what about the Dreyfus case? No, no. In that respect Hitler represents only a return to normalcy for Europe, after the brief glow of liberalism. The hostility simply moved from the Church to the anti-Semitic parties, because the French Revolution changed Europe from a religious to a political continent. If Hitler does win out, the Jews will fall back to the second-class status they always had under the kings and the popes. Well, we survived seventeen centuries of that. We have a lot of wisdom and doctrine for coping with it.” –The Winds of War – Herman Wouk
Oddly I didn’t remember how or why I started reading this, but in writing this stumbled on Wouk’s obit from earlier this year. I guess I didn’t consciously realize he only died this year at 103 years old. Surely that prompted me to add this to my reading list (as well as its sequel, War and Remembrance, and Marjorie Morningstar).
Entertaining/informative/thoughtful or some combination thereof
“The stark and sobering reality is that, for reasons largely unrelated to actual crime trends, the American penal system has emerged as a system of social control unparalleled in world history.“
Nothing in this book comes as a surprise, but put together in one place, how can anyone deny that the criminal justice system is, for all intents and purposes, an extension of centuries of oppression? I can’t read books like this without getting angry, sad and feeling helpless. But such reading – and then trying to act on what is read – is absolutely essential.
I forgot to mention this one when I originally wrote this post. I finished it at the last minute and refer to it now only because it’s written in profane, stream-of-consciousness Glaswegian. A strange story but quite alive in the sense that you can, if you’re familiar with Glaswegians, hear someone actually rambling along in this way. It was a controversial choice as a Booker Prize winner some years ago, and I understand why. But I think it’s deserving for the way it captures a character using this unique language. Not that I am an authority on what or who is deserving or not.
Okay, so I went into this expecting not to like it, and I was not wrong.
When Pete Buttigieg appeared on the world stage a few months back, with a slow but relentless trickle of stories drip-drip-dripping like a leaky faucet about how he’d taught himself Norwegian just to read more books by Erlend Loe and appeared suddenly and quietly at a hospital to act as an interpreter, had volunteered to join the military when he didn’t have to… and so on, it was sort of refreshing at first and an antidote to the unpatriotic and linguistically and cognitively challenged rhetoric of the current US president. Sure, this Buttigieg guy has a lot going for him and appears intelligent and humble, ticking a lot of the boxes required for fresh political talent in semi-liberal America. (Of course Americans don’t care if someone learns multiple languages; in fact, I’d argue that many Americans consider this disqualifying.)
But that’s the thing: I am not the world’s biggest cynic, but my cynicism radar won’t shut off. Every drip from the leaky faucet seems like it was cynically planted just to tick these boxes, and it was done craftily. Not all at once, quieter than the self-aggrandizing bluster of a Trump or even the standard self-promotion of most Democratic Party challengers. The strategy behind the offensive is the slow drip infiltration – starting long before Buttigieg declared an interest in running for president. It comes from all fronts, in many different forms. Perhaps it is no different from how Barack Obama ran a campaign, but we are witnessing this in a different, social-media-saturated, post-Trump world. Everything looks cynical. Furthermore, this was, frankly, a dull book.
I wrote a lengthy and relatively well-researched piece on the consequences of Brexit, looking at all the things that came to my mind about Brexit’s mostly negative implications. I even took a moment to meander into random musings on how the little European star-circle symbol on people’s car license plates will have to change in Britain – back to the Union flag or to individual country flags, like those in Norway and Iceland.
And then… in not at all dramatic fashion, my computer automatically restarted, and WordPress had not saved the latest draft. Not one single word of it.
I don’t remember a time in recent memory that I have been so angry. Mostly at myself for not obsessively pressing “save” or writing it in Word from the get-go.
Despite the post being about the UK and its future following its vote to exit the EU, the exercise of thinking about and researching it also led to a great deal of thinking about the United States and what it will soon face. I had written quite a lot about America at the same time as elucidating the potential problems of Brexit – about how Britain is just earlier to the “party” in terms of heading down what may well be a very dangerous path. America is bringing up the rear, but still roaring toward voting against its own best interests and isolating itself, rolling back human and civil rights and essentially creating a living nightmare. (Is this hyperbole? Perhaps. But we can’t sleepwalk through all of it in any case.) I wrote a lot about how rights fought for and won, such as the right to abortion, are precious and should not be taken for granted. Just as at least half of the UK, and more than half of the Scots and Northern Irish, once had all the rights granted to EU citizens – and now, that is in doubt. (Much of the reason the Scots voted against independence a couple of years ago is because they were promised that the UK would remain in the EU.)
At any given moment, the whole political and social landscape can change and become little more than a circus in which politicians become clowns and verbal acrobats and contortionists and individuals are essentially powerless circus animals. In the case of Scotland and Northern Ireland, whole countries were powerless in the end.
As the clown car that was the US Republican primary process emptied out, leaving the biggest clown of all, Donald Trump, in the driver’s seat, it dawned on the “reasonable” half of America that we should all be scared shitless (but not scared into inactivity). A Trump presidency will be a disaster. Beyond which, Trump just named Indiana governor, Mike Pence, as his running mate – and, as Robert Reich describes in a Facebook post, Pence is “one of the most extreme right-wing officials in America” and went on to describe how.
As we can see from the continued and contentious tug-of-war that defines the right-to-choose (which is a personal liberty and health issue – not a moral issue no matter what religious zealots claim), these issues are never set in stone or decided finally. Things can change, which is both good and bad. While the right to abortion may erode, which is a bad change, we can also see that the right to marriage equality has moved forward, which is a good change. But rights are always in a state of flux and subject to the winds and whims of change. This is especially true when no issue, no political candidate, no momentum ever enjoys a very clear majority – everything is split closely down the middle. No huge majority exists, generally, on one side or the other of any issue.
Only slightly more than half of the UK voted to exit the EU, meaning that Scotland and Northern Ireland, which both voted with a larger majority to remain in the EU, are dragged along with England and Wales’s bold-but-stupid plans. By extension, this means that a slight majority of Americans choosing Trump can drag the entire country toward chaos against its will. (We saw something similar when Bush II became president after a too-close-to-call, contested election in 2000 versus Al Gore. We see how that turned out.)
The point: We always have to be vigilant – about rights we already have and about continuing to vote (hopefully against lunacy).
This is why Brexit is perplexing. It feels like we are moving backwards, like when you are stuck in a nightmare and try to run but are stuck no matter how fast your legs move. Brexit was sold to the British public as a way to “take back control”: but take back control of what? Your own circus burning down?
No one framed the losses of Brexit better than political journalist Nicholas Barrett. Do read the whole eloquent thing, but what it boils down to is:
The working class who voted to leave will be the ones most adversely affected by Brexit (voting blindly against their own best interest)
The youth of both the UK and Europe both lose the right to live and work freely in each other’s countries; the older generation has taken away an unknown world of experiences, relationships and opportunities from the younger generation
Anti-intellectualism wins: “We now live in a post-factual democracy.” (Bush, Blair, Trump are all examples of how facts have less and less currency.)
This last point is most telling – and has been barreling toward disaster for a long time, even if it seems that the trend is more like a pendulum. Americans elected an intellectual (Barack Obama), who also happened to be America’s first black president, but will go to the extreme anti-intellect next time. At the same time, they will blindly and blithely claim, post-factually, that we live in a post-racial society because we once voted a black man into the office of president. All the facts speak otherwise, as a deeply insightful piece from Henry Rollins illustrates.
Bill Clinton was fairly intellectual, so a lot of people thirsted for the anti-intellect of George W. Bush in the post-Clinton era. (And the sliver-thin difference in number of votes between Bush and Gore left the country without a declared presidential election winner for more than a month. The fact that it was even close is what alarmed me more than the results themselves. That was the final straw for me as far as living in America goes. I had already moved away, but that cemented my resolve to never go back.)
I have given a lot of thought to these points and tried to look at them through the Brexit lens: demagogue leaders rush into Brexit without a plan, lie to the voters (who, by and large, are average people – meaning that they are not going to dig for real information for themselves; they are reactionary) and their issue wins. Once the vote is over, and they gloat (see Nigel Farage) but also backtrack on promises, back away from the supposed “facts” (see the lies about the money Britain was sending to the EU that could be used for the National Health Service) and do the most cowardly thing possible: they stepped down and said they accomplished what they wanted. Fine, that sounds Farage-like. But Trump-clone-blowhard Boris Johnson stepped away from power only to be handed the office of Foreign Secretary when a new government was basically appointed (I realize that’s how the system works but is mightily undemocratic seeming). And David Cameron was the idiot who set all of this in motion, somehow underestimating the power of the post-factual world we live in and the apathy of most voters – and the passion of single-issue and uninformed voters who have been scared into voting against their own interests. And now we seem to be heading toward a refrain of Britain in the 1980s: ultra-conservatism, economic uncertainty and unemployment and… if we are lucky, a surge of great music (since that is all there will be to cling to).
What will Brexit mean in real terms? People have had time to digest it, and with the (in)digestion, heartburn is setting in.
One journalist, Ian McConnell writes: “It has been difficult to escape the growing feeling, since the Brexit vote, of being stuck in one of the more shambolic episodes of Dad’s Army.”
Caveat: I am not British so it’s not really my deal – but it affects the whole world, all of Europe, and most of all, Britain itself. I have my own British interests in that I co-own a business there, have relationships there (well, in Scotland anyway), and have, like most Europeans, enjoyed the freedom to visit and stay as long as I wanted or needed to. I out myself here as a pro-Scottish independence, SNP supporter who forces all my Scottish friends to educate themselves, register to vote and vote – I might be deluded, but I think Scotland would be better off without England and remaining a part of the EU (as they voted to do). In this case, Scotland knows what it would be getting into if it were to vote to leave (i.e., “taking back control”), completely unlike the UK’s slapdash and uninformed vote to leave, which has left the country in a kind of tailspin – anything but in control – regardless of the British stiff upper lip they’re trying to display to the world.
A lengthy but not exhaustive list of what Brexit may mean (I am not a lawyer, an economist, any kind of expert or a psychic – but I have enough common sense to know that these may be among some of the results):
Currency value/price increases: Even before the Brexit vote, the value of the British pound started fluctuating on fears of an exit vote. The very morning of the vote’s result announcement, the currency plummeted and continues to struggle. The value of British people’s money, thus, has decreased, so in “taking back control”, they have not only made their own holidays abroad more expensive for themselves, in the short term, they have voted to probably raise the costs of their everyday goods in the long term, both in the sense that they will pay more directly and in the sense that everything will cost more as import costs rise, which will be passed on to consumers (and maybe, to make up for shortfalls, VAT will rise too – who knows?). These price hikes and less valuable money all come at a terrible time, of course, because the vote also means… uncertainty rippling throughout the entire economy.
And what does that mean? “Taking back control” means job losses for BRITONS – not just for all the immigrants they imagined were flooding in and stealing all the jobs. It’s not just the big multinationals (think finance/banking here) that will create these holes; small businesses are already feeling the punch to the gut (and who owns small business in Britain? Quite often it’s Britons, yet again!), announcing layoffs, scaled back investment or growth plans and price hikes.
Unemployment and possible loss of employment rights: Yes, unemployment is likely to rise. The aforementioned business uncertainty and probable exodus of companies to other locations means that job cuts are inevitable. It’s going to make those previously referenced price hikes that much more painful; it’s going to make it harder to afford to go away on holiday (if the freedom of movement problems stirred up don’t bar your way first).
A Credit Suisse report warns that a Brexit recession could lead to an increase in the unemployment rate that equals about 500,000 lost jobs. The report expects an increase in the overall unemployment rate from about 5% to 6.5% by the end of 2017 (maybe sooner, depending on what happens). In the week after the Brexit vote result, the number of posted job ads in the UK fell by 700,000. Pretty significant.
Beyond the sheer rise in unemployment, though, Brexit makes the UK a much less attractive place for foreign direct investment, which could have contributed to economic growth and created a lot of new jobs.
FDI: Foreign direct investment is not something most average people think about. The UK has long been one of the world’s most attractive FDI recipients because it had a unique set of attributes that companies looking to locate and invest need and want, including being an English-speaking country with (at least in London) an international, multilingual population, great infrastructure and access to the European single market.
I take FDI more personally, as I have worked in this industry for some time and have seen how the trends move. A company – large or small – looking at its options for relocating and investing will benchmark UK against other European locations, and where once UK competed favorably, the exit from the single market will exclude the UK from serious consideration. It’s quite complicated and multifaceted. (Ireland will probably benefit from the UK’s “taking back control”.)
Property values/housing: In a classic case of people voting on an isolated, single issue – and not really understanding the complexity of it, many voters cited (potential) property price decreases (the Treasury warned that house prices would decrease as much as ten percent) as their reason for voting to leave the EU. Aside from the fact that voting should be about benefit to the entire country, not just what you individually think you can gain, this is naïve voting. Maybe property prices decrease as a result of Brexit, but it conversely means that property values decrease, so those Britons who already own property may experience negative equity, which could be particularly acute in northern England and real losses on their investment. The danger in focusing on a single issue also fails to take into account all the other factors at work, e.g., unemployment, wage stagnation and recession, which may lead many people to not be able to afford a home no matter how far property prices fall.
A large part of the Leave campaigning focused on “taking control of” immigration and the borders of the UK; most Britons, though, did not think about what leaving would mean for their own mobility. Or what that would mean for their friends, family members and colleagues who already live in Britain – and what that uncertainty and what a mass expulsion of Europeans would mean for the economy (no, it does not automatically mean that there will be floods of open jobs for British citizens; so many Europeans work in Britain in the first place because companies often have unique needs and Europeans unique qualifications that match up; some Europeans will do jobs that British people don’t want to do).
This reasoning also failed to consider that Britain already has exceptions in place that keep people from completely freely showing up in Britain. Britain never joined the Schengen area and thus controlled its borders much more tightly than other Schengen-area countries.
Breakup of the country: The breakup of the United Kingdom is a topic I should not have passionate feelings about and don’t think it’s one about which I can be objective. (Not that I have been totally objective throughout my points here.) On this topic is even more personal. I’ve spent a huge amount of time in Glasgow and feel an exceptionally strong connection to Scotland and see its potential outside of the UK. I supported the independence referendum last time, despite having no vote, and I “activated” all the people I know in Scotland to educate themselves, pick a side and vote.
I don’t necessarily think independence is going to be an easy option. But I support it. When the SNP launched the first bid for independence, they had a lengthy manifesto and a detailed plan and platform. By contrast, there was NO plan for the UK outside the EU, despite it being an even more complex divorce.
Reigniting Northern Ireland problems: I don’t feel the same passion about Northern Ireland as I do about Scotland, but I don’t think anyone needs to be reminded of the (T)troubles there. Northern Ireland is a high-stakes Brexit gamble. It’s the UK’s only hard land border with another EU (or any) country (the republic of Ireland), and what happens to this border now that the UK has voted to leave? Will this vote kick up new calls for reunification with the republic of Ireland, and will that reignite the “bitterness and bloodshed” that remains an explosive possibility. The really young may not remember firsthand the violence between Protestant Unionists and the Catholic nationalist minority and the terror that surrounded this battle. It’s not something anyone wants to see repeated, and while it may feel like peace was achieved “long ago”, it’s still less than 20 years.
Food: There are areas Brexit will affect that the average voter probably did not even think about. One of these is food (and how much food is imported, and what that could mean for availability and price).
There could also be a knock-on effect to British farming, which will lose EU agriculture subsidies.
Music: Maybe because I care so passionately about music, films and the arts – but mostly music – I am most concerned about its future. What happens to the industries and the touring musicians and the legal/copyright stuff? It’s complex….
Alienation/isolation: The price of going it alone and “taking back control” could be isolationism and, as mentioned, moving to the back of the line. There is no certainty that the UK will end up in isolation – the world is a bit more globalized than that. But was the risk worth it? Is the “control” you think you took back keeping you warm at night and comforted?
The new year is here. Isn’t it required to reflect on what the previous year held? I do this frequently enough in my near-quarterly letters/life soundtracks, but year-end reflections aren’t bad.
Last year someone kept trying to tell me that I am his port in a storm. The problem is that I don’t think he knows what that means. He is someone who gets himself into trouble – or at least into unwise, uncomfortable situations – and panics, and then wants to press the red button to eject and land safely in my port.
The other problem with this “boy crying wolf” thing is that it also takes advantage of me and my willingness to be, as he drunkenly put it once, “the easy option”. I am neither the port in anyone’s storm nor the easy option. I suppose this is in large part where all my cynicism comes from – especially in recent years. I always had the “consolation prize complex” but it grows worse as people actually, blatantly try to use me. I look at every interpersonal situation and ask, “What’s this person’s angle? What is s/he looking for?” I would in 2014 very much like to meet a person I can instinctively trust without questioning their every action and word.And dispense with those who do not fit these criteria.
To get away from this doubt and take a few steps back from the cynic who always steps out in front of the more understanding “real” and unfiltered me, I will have to cut out the existing influences that always leave me questioning. Some people cannot be trusted – on so many levels – and there are just certain elements that I don’t want in my life.
An extension of this is my approach to friendship. I have always considered myself a good but vulnerable friend – sometimes extending myself way too far for people who ultimately don’t care that much (or as much) about me. Friends, as much as I love and treasure them in the moment, do come and go. In earlier life, people were fickle; we all change and can’t cling to the past. It does not mean that I don’t miss some people from 20 years ago who have disappeared and become the types of people who do not exist online (thinking here of Terra – I came across the Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy” video and laughed, thinking about how she and I used to joke that she wanted to stick her tongue between Roland Gift’s crooked front teeth. Checking out the video again now, I am struck by how the other band members look like blokes who might work at a gas station or tax office). Memories.
I have become a lot better at letting go of the past, or so I imagine. But the “port in the storm” guy is evidence that I don’t completely let go even when it is the best thing for me.
Therefore, in 2014, I need to start thinking about what is really best for me in the long run. Not what fills a few hours of loneliness in the middle of a Saturday night, not lingering on things that are dead just because there is not something else to replace it. I need to devote that attention to the friendships that are very much alive and want the nourishment.
I would like to embrace sincerely the whole “age isn’t everything”/“you’re only as old as you feel” concept. I give it a lot of lip service, and I genuinely feel like other people at my age are still young but experienced – the best combination. But because I have been feeling like I was 72 since I was 8, I feel positively decrepit now. It does not help that my body has betrayed me in such underhanded and uncontrollable ways – in ways that are actually fairly devastating to me, even if in all the cliché ways. The healthiest thing I can do in 2014 is give up on dreams that are next to impossible – and even if they could be within reach, they come at far too high a price. I am happy with me and just have to be happy being only me, whether I feel 72, my actual age or 8.
On a related note, I came across a brief article on CraigConnects.org about things Craig Newmark did after the age of 35. There is a lot of emphasis placed on youth, especially in the world of fast-moving start-ups, as though only people under 35 are creative and risk-taking enough to put it all out on the line. But maybe other attributes matter more – I agreed with Newmark’s points about experience making a difference, and life’s greatest rewards coming when you accept and embrace who you are. I know that I am and always have been like a 72-year-old lady who bakes a lot of stuff, writes a lot of old-fashioned letters and postal cards and can be a nerdy librarian type with a head full of all kinds of references that no one needs. And I like it – I like me – like that.
Beyond this, I have written before about how it is never “too late”. Nothing is too late until you are dead – and if this year slapped me across the face in any way at all, it was to remind me that death comes suddenly, unexpectedly. We all know this in an abstract way. But most of us don’t confront it – with our young child or young wife snatched away from us without warning. It is a cliché to say that we should live our lives, each day, as though it is our last. It would also be irresponsible to advocate that kind of complete reckless abandon. But these sudden losses are cause to evaluate seriously each part of our lives. There are things we must do to get by, but for example, if you are miserable in your job – you have to find a path to get out. If you have a business idea, find a way to start it. If you always dreamt of getting a master’s degree in architecture, what’s stopping you? If moving to France was your dream, what steps can you take to move toward your Gallic future? I am fully aware that people have debts, obligations, family, legalities and a laundry list of other obstacles to doing whatever they want. But you can make almost anything happen if you really want it. It’s said that nothing worth doing is easy – and usually this is true. You can make a change.
As a woman for whom “change” is a mantra, I learned in 2013 that even if one can make a change – or a lot of changes – change is not always the answer. Make change judiciously. As I have written elsewhere, I made a lot of life changes, which were needed because I needed to get out of the complacent rut I had been in. But the changes I made were made more because they were the options I had in hand – not because they were the right choices or things that would make me happiest or most fulfilled. Important to note and remember – just because you make a change, regardless of how big it is, does not mean you cannot reverse it. Almost nothing is absolutely permanent, so you can always make another change. I try to advise people along these lines quite frequently because people are often paralyzed by fear, and fail to change as a result, too scared of things not working – possibly scared that they will work – or scared of the things that may change as a result of the first change. Indecision can kick your ass and drag you behind it. As long as you don’t decide, you are floating and never taking your life into your own hands.
I started this new year doing something out of character for me, and I think it is important to test your boundaries sometimes – even if you don’t enjoy it. It is the best way to find out how well you know yourself and sometimes whether you can grow and become more than you imagined. Life is, after all, about the experience, which includes both the good and the bad.
If you can, start every new year with a kiss. And finally, don’t settle for stale crumbs when you could have the whole cake.
1. SONIC CONTROL – “Broken Television on a Neukölln Street”
“I’m a broken television on a Neukölln street/that dog over there just pissed on me/my screen is cracked, my transformers are gone/I was state of the art until it all went wrong…” The dogs of corporate life. Thanks, ML and MS
2. Ladytron – “Mirage” …You don’t listen,/You do not exist…
“Happy not to notice/The room retracts the focus/Where you cannot see/Reflections from within”
3. Elton John – “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” …live for each second, without hesitation…
Song is a sad reminder of childhood & early years of music videos. “I simply love you more than I love life itself”
4. John Grant – “Leopard and Lamb” …Like learning how to crawl across a floor that’s covered with glass/Like learning how to look away and never to look back…
“Watch The Simpsons to remember how you’d laugh…”. For Ph. Friendship ending always hurts more than love
5. Ulali – “Mahk Jchi”
This is like being back in college again. Upon reflection, the most awkward, misguided time of my whole life
6. Royal Headache – “Distant and Vague”
One for wandering central Göteborg. And the title/theme… what/who isn’t “distant and vague”?
7. TV-Resistori – “Koputan puuta”
FUNland! ”But Ginsberg, my balls hurt!” Finnish music that sounds almost Japanese. Music for throwing away perfectly good shoes. For Naomi and ML.
8. Pepe Deluxé – “Lucky the Blind vs. Vacuum Cleaning Monster”
Thinking about Lóa, who loves vacuum cleaners.
9. Les Sans Culottes – “Tout va bien”
All the French – Aurélien, Bruno, Tristan, Thierry, Valérie – and so on. All the cool people.
10. Cepia – “Ithaca”
Anything Ithaca, as much horror as it might give her, is for Jill.
11. John Grant – “I Hate This Town” “But then again you always made it clear/That you do not care either way/Which begs the question/How can I still claim to love you/You told me time and time again/That you don’t lose you always win/And that to make an effort would just be beneath you”. John Grant – hands down, one of my favorites
12. Throwing Muses – “Mexican Women” …love becomes a foreign substance…
For Martina and her reflections on Mexican women making piñatas that will just be destroyed – the fleeting nature of beauty. “Up yours, Bruno!” Also, I might as well be a man – I open doors for and bring flowers to women friends. What woman wouldn’t want to marry me? Hahaha. Pachanga! Free fika cake!
13. Yo La Tengo – “Nowhere Near” …everyone is here/but you’re nowhere near…
I have always loved this song, but love resurged when it appeared in the final episode of the US version of The Bridge this year.
14. Marianne Faithfull – “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” …at the age of 37, she realized she’d never ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair…
For a variety of reasons, I really dislike the name Lucy (cue up whiny, snotty British accent for starters). I am sure I had heard this song before (Lee Hazlewood version?) and even think I knew it was written by Shel Silverstein, but it appeared in the Dusan Makavejev film Montenegro, which I only saw recently despite its being made in 1980. I had no idea it was set in Stockholm (you’d never guess from the film’s title!), the dubious heroine a resident of posh island “suburb”, Lidingö. In the early 2000s I went to a film festival in Reykjavik at which Makavejev was the guest – they screened two of his weirder films (they’re all weird)… oh memories. For Leifur.
15. The National – “About Today” …you just walked away/and I just watched you…
What more can really be said about The National? “How close am I to losing you?”
16. The Rolling Stones – “Sympathy for the Devil”
Horrifying memories of hordes of Australians on bus trip; a memory of coming home from kindergarten. My dad was playing this, and it is the only time I remember him choosing willingly to play a record on his own. I was a bit scared/very intrigued by this song because of the title and the drum beat.
17. Martha Wainwright – “Matapedia” …I could not slow down/I was not afraid…
Martha doing one of her mother, Kate McGarrigle’s (RIP) songs – really lovely.
18. Kishi Bashi – “I Am the Antichrist to You” …I was always quick to admit defeat…
“And my heart it shook with fear/I’m a coward behind a shield and spear”
20. Animotion – “Obsession”
Oh, the 80s.Makes me feel old but brings to mind obsessive statements à la “Nobody has driven me crazy like this for such a long time. Never.” For JKL
21.Run DMC/Aerosmith – “Walk This Way”
Thanks to Jill for the reminder of this song, which I like much better now than in the old days. Late-night, loud rain dance praying with love for Annette.
22. Lia Ices – “Little Marriage”
This song was included on another mix but it’s too beautiful not to use again. It inspires such emotion, bringing an emptiness that longs to be filled to the surface. With love for Jane as always.
23. Jean-Louis Murat – “Colin-Maillard” …Tu traverses le miroir/Ton désir ne veut plus patienter…
Another previous inclusion… the sound and the voice fills me with a kind of melancholy.
24. My Bloody Valentine – “Feed Me with Your Kiss”
MBV released their first album in 20+ years but I select a song from an old album. Nostalgia?
25. The Smiths – “A Rush and a Push”
“Let’s talk about poetry.” The seductive power of knowing a poem or two… stealing things from others’ imaginations.
26. OutKast – “Hey Ya!” …don’t try to fight the feeling/cause the thought alone is killing me right now…
To the joy of knowing Jill: “My baby don’t mess around”
27. Lay Low – “Last Time Around”
Something nice from Iceland, thinking of all my friends there (Alfa, Jane, Lóa, and so on…)
28. Iron & Wine – “Jesus the Mexican Boy”
One of the songs in a playlist I made chronicling dogs, dog and pony shows and Mexicans. For Martina.
29. Belle & Sebastian – “Legal Man” …L-O-V-E – it’s coming back, it’s coming back…
One to lose one’s mind dancing to. “Get out of the city/and into the sunshine/get out of the office/and into the springtime…”
30. Serge Gainsbourg – “Les Sucettes” …Elle est au paradis…
For Jean, who taught me so much, and for JKL, who makes plans he will never keep
31. New Order – “Love Vigilantes”
The confusion of mixing up conversations that started about rotten chuck roast and what I thought was “dal” (as in Indian food) but was actually “dal” as in “valley” (Norwegian). I was wondering, “Since when does dal have chuck roast in it?” But the conversation was really referring to Malala from that “dal” (Swat Valley). J Love my vigilante friend, Annette. And, for Naomi – “O blessed be – my favorite dal of all the dals!”
32. The Bee-Gees – “Night Fever”
Taken aback by the rampant popularity of Daft Punk’s latest offer – it’s good, but in light of the backlash against the Bee-Gees and their sound in the late 70s – it is interesting to hear these sounds make a resurgence.
33. Human League – “Don’t You Want Me?”
Neverending back & forth with ML, who never knows what he wants – just knows it’s whatever he doesn’t have
34. Don Dixon – “Praying Mantis”
For Naomi and the happiness of driving around in a different car.
35. Darker My Love – “Talking Words”
Sitting in the autumn-dark parking lot observing OCD-afflicted people check their doors five or six times
36. Lush – “For Love”
Another song that transports me to an exact time, feeling – making me want to run back to the present
37. Camera Obscura – “Anti-Western” …you’re too good looking, I’m always gonna put up a fight…
Anthem to those stunning but ultimately false moments when you believe (stupidly!) that interest is actually real. How eager even the cynic is to believe sometimes. Thanks to Jill as always.
38. Erasure – “Oh L’Amour”
This will always remind me of the late 80s, very late-night phone calls with JBB – alternate realities that allowed for the most complete and unfiltered feeling I can ever remember feeling
39. Cinerama – “Heels” …you crushed him with your heels/and I know exactly how he feels…
For Mathieu. “I don’t really care that you found another lover/cause I know he’ll be gone the moment that you get bored…”
40. Secret Machines – “Atomic Heels” …uncover your eyes/they’re bloodied in love/who’s staring back at yours, honey what have you missed?…
41. Ladytron – “Seventeen” …they only want you when you’re 17, when you’re 21, you’re no fun…
How to feel old…
42. Lana Del Ray – “Blue Jeans (RAC Mix)” …I will love you til the end of time…
Dislike Lana Del Ray but for some reason like this mix – here’s to new cars and departed Greek dentists.
43. Glen Campbell – “Wichita Lineman” …I need you more than want you…
For Naomi – another sort of stalker song.
44. The Bee-Gees – “To Love Somebody”
I put the Roberta Flack version of this on the other part of this mix and knew it had sounded familiar but did not put two and two together until I reheard this version in the film 50/50. The Bee-Gees’ music (as done by other artists) is everywhere. It’s got a sad sort of feel – we’ve all been there, but the “you don’t know what it’s like” also sounds like the condescending sorts who rub your being alone in your face, “You just don’t know what it’s like to be in love…”
45. Blondie – “Faces”
I listened to this – and the whole Autoamerican album – over and over when I was five. No wonder I am so fucked. 🙂 “Rapture” does at least reference Subaru! Memories of Thanksgiving with Lóa (2013)
46. Lou Reed – “Satellite of Love”
Rest in peace and bon voyage.
** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
What does it take to be fearless and loving? Loving people requires a certain risk-taking fearlessness that I have never really embraced. When I say never, I mean never. But kindness – that can substitute.
I take a lot of risks and make a lot of changes but am still fearful of a lot of things. Perhaps I need to focus on these things before running off on another adventure undertaken for the sake of “change”.
Sudden, unexpected loss everywhere this year – there is no time like the present to do what one needs to do to feel healthy and happy. Happiest new year wishes, as arbitrary as that really is.
“He turns the pages of books
And examines the poems there
Saying my God
All this has already been written.”
“Adrift again 2000 man / You lost your maps, / You lost the plans, / Did you hear them yell, / “Land damn it land?”” – Grandaddy, “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot” (Seems transferable to web-overhaul projects, no?)
We all know how much I love repetition. Thus, when one gets involved, even tangentially, in the dubious business of website development, design and content, it is easy to become a cynic.
If it is not the design that looks identical or eerily similar everywhere, it’s the nightmare process – underfunded, underresourced, misguided and misunderstood. It’s a wonder that anyone (or any corporation at least) gets a website done. (Note I did not write “gets a website working” – many websites get done and may function more or less – but do they accomplish what they are meant to? An entirely different can of worms.)